FROSTBURG — Fort Hill opened its Maryland Class 1A state title defense in a pretty simple and familiar fashion Friday night — scoring on every first-half drive, playing stout defense and taking advantage of the other team’s mistakes.
The end result? A 56-7 win over Mountain Ridge in the season opener for both schools Friday night at Miner Stadium.
“I thought we were a little bit sluggish, I think, because the newness of everybody, the first game of the year, you don’t really have real competition until you play a game,” said Fort Hill head coach Todd Appel. “I thought we were a little bit sluggish to start because we are so new, especially defensively, and that was one of my worries. But I was pretty pleased for the first time coming out of the box to play defense like that. And then offensively, that’s where I think we were a little bit sluggish — lining up in the wrong sets, blocking the wrong people, penalties, those kinds of things.
“But overall, I was really pleased with the kids’ effort. They play hard. If a group of kids play hard, you can work on the other stuff. ... I’m very pleased about their effort, and I think we can move forward. You’ll find a lot out about your team in film, and we can make adjustments there. The whole goal is just to get better every week by watching film and practicing, and I think this is a good group of kids to do that.”
The Sentinels won the coin toss, deferred to the second half, and used its defense to force a punt on the Miners’ opening drive, which lasted six plays.
Carson Snyder, the workhorse back among Fort Hill’s plethora of rushing options, led the charge on the Sentinels’ first drive, which spanned 62 yards on eight plays.
Snyder took the first play from scrimmage 12 yards before Danny King gained 5, Breven Stubbs 8 and Colby Santmyire 5 via the ground. Snyder then reeled off runs of 5, 5 and 4 yards before reaching the end zone at the 6:14 mark on an 18-yard scamper. King booted the point-after to give the Sentinels their first lead of the season.
The Miners got into Fort Hill territory on their ensuing drive when Bryce Snyder connected with Tre Smith for an 11-yard gain with a roughing-the-passer penalty added on to the play. Two plays later, on third-and-9, Snyder drew the Sentinels offside, putting Mountain Ridge five yards closer to a first down and continuing the drive. But, the penalty was ultimately wiped out when Jason VanMeter worked his way through the offensive line and sacked the quarterback for a 7-yard loss, forcing a punt.
Mountain Ridge’s punt wound up being mistake No. 1 that Fort Hill took advantage of, with a slow snap and Carson Snyder getting the edge to block the kick that Sheldon Welsh pulled out of midair at the 31-yard-line and ran it in for the score. King’s PAT at the 3:54 mark doubled the Sentinels’ lead at 14-0.
The Miners, again, came back swinging, with Bryce Snyder dumping a pass off to running back Jared Horsman on a wheel route, getting to the Mountain Ridge 45-yard-line. But a false start and dropped pass ultimately stalled the drive and led to another punt, which, combined with Ashton Shimko’s punt and a Fort Hill penalty, the Miners were able to pin the Sentinels deep in their own territory at the 17.
A holding penalty wiped out a 6-yard gain by Stubbs on first down, pushing the Sentinels back to their own 8.
A pair of Carson Snyder runs of 8 and 7 yards set up a third-and-4, where King ultimately wound up taking a knee after losing 7 yards on a broken play. However, Mountain Ridge was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for a late hit, giving the Sentinels a first down at their own 24.
After a loss of three, Snyder broke free for a 41-yard gain to get into Mountain Ridge territory, with a facemask penalty tacked on to get Fort Hill into the red zone. Three plays later, after a drive full of quick handoffs, King quickly faked the handoff and followed his center, Hunter Jacobs, up the middle for a 9-yard quarterback keeper for a touchdown. King converted the point-after, making it 21-0 with 10:04 to play before the half.
“Danny’s probably one of the better athletes in the area and, I think, probably the best athlete in our senior class,” said Appel. “He’s been relegated, I don’t want to say, to just being the kicker, because he’s a pretty incredible kicker, but he’s been relegated to being the kicker, and now we’ve asked him to step up as well at quarterback and I think he can only get better.
“He made some nice automatics at the line of scrimmage tonight and two of them were actually touchdowns on the sneak and the quick pitch. ... Plus, Danny has pretty good wheels too. And we didn’t really get to see that much tonight because we didn’t want to run him too much, but also I think he can give us some running game, like Blake (Beal) did last year, in big moments.”
Mountain Ridge wasn’t going down without a fight. It responded and got on the board two plays later from the Miner 10 when Bryce Snyder threw a pass to Sean Brown that initially gained about 15 yards, but Brown used his speed to break away from a pair of defenders that turned into a 90-yard touchdown. Ashton Shimko booted the extra-point to make it 21-7.
The Sentinels scored three plays later. After runs of 5 yards by Carson Snyder and 6 by Stubbs, Stubbs broke free on a 67-yard scamper to put Fort Hill ahead 28-7 at the 7:59 mark.
The score was set up by King when he motioned for one of the players in the backfield to his right and sent Stubbs over from his left, before King quickly pitched to Stubbs who took off up the left side before cutting back to the right side for the score.
Fort Hill scored two more times before halftime on Carson Snyder runs of 5 and 2 yards at the 3:34 and :38 marks for a 42-7 halftime advantage and start the running clock after the break. Snyder led all players with 126 yards rushing on 14 carries and three scores.
Stubbs returned a punt 65 yards with 47 seconds to play in the third quarter to make it 49-7.
“We had plays,” Mountain Ridge head coach Ryan Patterson said. “We had opportunities to make. Two big special teams plays — the punt return for touchdown and blocked punt before that — and when you have those gaffs, which Fort Hill seems to always do against us, they’re momentum changers. No doubt about it. Those plays, as well as the personal foul when we had them backed up near their own end zone, we turned the ball over right before halftime — those plays, you take those out, I’m not saying we’re right in the game, but nevertheless our heads are still above water.”
Paxton Wertz capped off the scoring with a 10-yard run with 6:11 to play. Robert Bower booted the PAT.
The Sentinels outgained the Miners, 365-194, and 362-40 on the ground. Stubbs finished with 92 yards on seven carries. Santmyire added 44 on seven attempts, Wertz 44 on five rushes and Blake White 24 on three carries.
The Miners’ Bryce Snyder threw for 154 yards.
“He’s going to be a good player for us,” Patterson said of his sophomore quarterback. “He’s got the tools. He’s got the moxie. He’s only going to improve, the way he practices and works hard and knows the game.”
Jeff McKenzie caught Snyder’s last completion for a 28-yard gain.
“We know what level they’re going to be in year in, year out,” Patterson said. “To match them, you need to play every play. All 11 players, every play, to get to that level. We knew it would be a tall task to start with them. Nevertheless, we felt they were more physical than us, but we weren’t completely outmatched. So we took a lot of positives out of it.”
Fort Hill travels to Morgantown on Friday, while Mountain Ridge hosts Catoctin. Both games kick off at 7 p.m.
Follow Staff Writer Kyle Bennett on Twitter @KyleBennettCTN.